Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Scott C. Johnson's "The Wolf and the Watchman"

Scott C. Johnson was a Newsweek foreign correspondent for twelve years, often providing exclusive war reporting from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other fronts in the Middle East. He is now a freelance journalist and writer living in Oakland, California.

Johnson applied the “Page 99 Test” to his 2013 National Book Award longlisted book, The Wolf and the Watchman: A Father, a Son, and the CIA, and reported the following:
On page 99 we see my father Keith Johnson, a career case officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, shifting identities once again, this time into the Democratic challenger for the Washington State Senate.
Many people liked the idea of my father as a senator. He was handsome, intelligent, and articulate. Knowledgeable about the issues, he had, at times, an indefinable sense of bearing. He could be charismatic. Sometimes he was angry, too, and anger was good when it translated as political passion. He wanted to change things, shake them up. He was quick to choke up and become sentimental, and that too translated well as political theater.
This metamorphosis comes at a critical time in my father's life, and in mine. After 25 years in the Agency, my father had retired a few years earlier and was looking for new paths to pursue. I, meanwhile, had become a Newsweek foreign correspondent, and my father's life as a spy very quickly became the story I was most interested in understanding. The local reporters covering his political ascendency were similarly intrigued.
In a brief profile of my father, the Spokesman-Review described him as a "Spokane native" who the CIA had recruited in Mexico City in 1969. "He tracked Cold War Soviet activity in Yugoslavia, Southeast Asia and Spain," the article noted. "Fluent in Spanish, he worked on counterterrorism operations prior to the world exposition in Seville and the Barcelona Summer Olympics. He said he was also a trade representative for the U.S State Department and worked undercover, but declines to provide specifics."

"I can't get into operating procedures," my father told the reporter.
The spy-father and the journalist-son cross paths again and again as the narrative moves on. Sometimes these meetings are physical, such as in Sarajevo, Jordan or Mexico, where both continued to work, and sometimes they take place in conversations, letters and phone calls. The result, as I've tried to capture it, is a father-son story that spans sixty years, multiple continents and the morally hazardous terrain where secrecy and family meet betrayal and loyalty.
Learn more about the book and author at The Wolf and the Watchman website.

--Marshal Zeringue